Hardware without software is an expensive rock, and an application platform without developers isn't much more useful. But it's difficult to attract and maintain robust developer support when today's connected world is flooded with opportunities to create apps.
No matter how compelling the technology, an SDK just isn't enough.
Scott Burnell recently talked with i2Integration about the importance of a developer ecosystem. The Global Lead, Business Development & Partner Management for the Ford Developer Program explained why the i2Integration-supported Developer Portal, App Catalog and other features have been crucial to his team's success.
"A developer ecosystem is really a true ecosystem," he said, "in that it has a number of different components that all hold together different areas of developer needs. It gives them that ability to take an idea all the way through fruition, into an actual product."
Burnell cited the strong tool set as a key feature for developer empowerment; members of the Ford Developer Program have access to information, personnel, traditional assets such as SDKs and developer guides, and extensive support.
A lot of the feedback he hears from developers is how helpful the ecosystem is for getting started.
"Whether you're building software, enabling things to talk to each other over IoT, or just brainstorming and creating brand new products," Burnell said, the big question is, what's Step One? "So, really having a good base and a good jumping-off point, where you can give the background to developers, they're very appreciative of that."
Better yet, developers tell his team that they love being able to count on information and resources being continuously updated and maintained.
They don't want to go looking for an answer for an issue that they're having, or a hurdle that they can't quite get over, and see material that was placed on the website three or four years ago," Burnell said. "They want to have the most up-to-date and pertinent information so they can actually get the answer they're looking for."
One of the most important drivers of developer engagement is the human component. When support and guidance is available via phone, email, Slack, blog posts or even in-person events, the trust factor is much stronger.
But how important can a developer ecosystem be to actually attracting developers and maintaining their engagement? Can i2Integration's services really be a powerful driver of third-party application support?
"It's been the backbone of the Ford Developer Program," Burnell said. "A commercial-facing, end-user facing asset like a developer site is invaluable. One of the whole reasons we spun up the developer site and made it a big component is simply the number of man-hours it takes. I mean, the world's a big place, and we don't have a really big team."
For Burnell, overseeing platform developments across several continents means it's vital that developer resources—tools, downloads, support systems that aren't just based out of one office—are available worldwide, 24/7, to cater to the needs of all developers.
"The impact is obviously seen on the number of developers we have who are still joining the program, and those who have stayed around and are still active," Burnell said. "The fact that we have about 20,000 developers inside the ecosystem that i2Integration has helped Ford build is a good testament that the material we provide, the resources we provide are what the developers are looking for."
Of course, the end goal is application support—and Burnell is more than pleased with the ideas and products inspired and supported by the developer ecosystem, which currently has launched about 120 apps around the world.
"In the automotive world, if you combine all of the apps that have been launched from all the other OEMs globally, it doesn't even come close to what we've done," he said.
And, Burnell said, there's more to come. "I think the updates that we've been working on, to the tools, and the developer site itself, are really going to impress the developer community. It's going to make things easier for them, actually increase their capability to get content directly into Ford—and we're also expanding that across into the world of SDL and the open source connectivity system that we're a part of. i2Integration is integral in pulling that together so we can have those systems talk to each other as well."
Burnell believes the impact of i2Integration's services and features can be felt all the way inside the vehicle—in user experience itself.
"I think because we've stayed on top of the tools and the messaging, and really because we've stayed in front of the developers, as we've grown the capabilities in-vehicle—from the original SYNC with the two-line dot-matrix display, to SYNC3 now with the nice color display, with touchscreen, pinch-and-zoom capabilities, with the voice capabilities that we've got now—we've had a pretty good seamless evolution inside the vehicle."
Updates, changes and new features have been rolled out to developers, sometimes even before their commercial launch. The smooth rollout of the SYNC3 platform is a prime example.
"As the vehicles roll off, there were apps that were already capable of working with that new interface," Burnell said. "It's been a very important tool to be able to make sure our owners have the best applications and components that are working with the new hardware and software that we're putting in the vehicles."